Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Kenan Malik debate the issue in New Humanist. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:
Burqa bans are coming in a number of EU countries. A Pew Global Attitudes survey found that 62 per cent of Britons want the same ban imposed here. An unlikely alliance of resistors has assembled to prevent any such move – Muslim Wahabis, right-wing libertarians, left-wing anti-racists. And, of course, fervent torch bearers of the Enlightenment, whose central argument is freedom – the core value of liberalism. That one principle overrides other serious considerations and reveals the inadequacies of textbook British liberalism – idle, unaware of plates shifting enigmatically in the 21st century. Avowed liberals are only able to see conflicts in binary terms – left/right, faith/atheism, freedom of expression/censorship, west/rest, Islam/enlightenment and so on. They are as committed to literalism as are literalist religious believers – in all situations they revert to the rule book, quote Voltaire, Mill and Locke, their prophets. Real liberalism means accepting illiberal choices they say, somewhat self-righteously. The burqa does not affect their own lives or test their powers of endurance. I tried to wear the full veil for a day, but threw it off in a couple of hours. I felt wiped out, lifeless and voiceless.
The burqa should have no place in a 21st-century society, either as a piece of clothing or as a symbol of the status of women. But is the medievalism of the burqa best confronted through the illiberalism of a state ban? I think not.
There are three main kinds of arguments in favour of a ban: practical, political and existential. Practical concerns centre around worries that the burqa might make it easier for terrorists to evade security checks, and harder for people to perform certain jobs, especially those requiring face-to-face contact with the public. Politically, the burqa does little for gender equality or social integration. And for some, it poses a mortal challenge to Western values.